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Low German speaking Mennonites who have come to Ontario from Latin America are a part of a rich religious tradition with a long history. The formal aspects of religious life are expressed in church activities, but the very fabric of daily colony life is religious as well.

Old Colony churches in the United States and Canada, including the ones in Ontario, tend to be the most progressive of Old Colony groups because they have had to create a religious identity in a pluralistic environment that challenges their commitment to be separate. For some Latin American Mennonites who come to Ontario, the Old Colony traditions are too restrictive so they look for alternative churches. For others, tradition remains a structure that frees them to live according to their religious beliefs. In Ontario, Mennonites from Latin America attend a great variety of churches, though the majority continue to attend the Old Colony church. At the same time, not all Low German Mennonite churches in Latin America are Old Colony. The Sommerfeld and former General Conference churches tend to be more open to some degrees of cultural adaptation. When people from these groups migrate to Canada, they will adjust more quickly to Canadian norms than Old Colony members by joining other Mennonite and non-Mennonite churches.

“The Old Colony Church is a little different (in Ontario). In Mexico, almost all the women wear the formal ‘cap’ to church while here it is mostly the older generation. The clothing worn to church is more modern in Canada, which includes the style and colour. In Mexico, formal church clothing is worn to worship. In Mexico, the service is delivered in High German, and here, it is delivered in Low German. Low German is better because more of the sermon can be understood.”

Colony Culture in Latin AmericaIn Latin America, Low German-speaking Mennonites live on colonies which are large tracts of land reserved exclusively for Mennonites. Colonies are divided into villages, and villages are divided into individual family farms. Each village has a school, and churches are scattered throughout the colony. There is a high degree of organized mutual aid on colonies which is directed toward orphans, poor members of the colony and colony members who have experienced a disaster like a fire.